Excellent read. A solid 4 stars. I got completely immersed, and it kept my rapt attention from beginning to end. It was the kind of book I read every free moment I could.
Firstly, I would like to say that Broken Wing by this author is one of my top favorite romance novels. And this book definitely had some of the things I love about Judith James' books - an eloquent and flowing writing style, and her ability to convey very deep emotions through the use of dialogue and the description of physical sensations.
The book takes place during the English Civil War, an unusual era for a romance novel; which is another reason why I liked it. It also prompted me to do some research, and I found that the author includes many accurate historical facts, including the use of King Charles II and his mistress, Barbara Palmer, as well as other true-to-life historical figures, as secondary characters in the book.
The story begins during the time of Oliver Cromwell's rule, and the King's exile from England. Elizabeth Walters finds William de Veres bleeding on her doorstep. She takes him in, tends his wounds, and allows him to seduce her. They make love, and then he leaves. It is then that the story takes us into these characters' back-stories. We find out they were childhood friends, and first sweethearts. A bit of a star-crossed Romeo-and-Juliet-type thing, since they were both young and separated by being on two different sides of the Civil War. But during this one night William doesn't recognize Elizabeth, and again they do not come into contact for years.
When they finally do, the war is over. William, now Lord Rivers and a very close confidant to the King, vows to help her gain back some of the land she lost during the war. It is then that he recognizes Elizabeth both as his best childhood friend/love and the woman he spent the one night with when he was wounded (who he was unable to shake from his thoughts). William is now a notorious libertine and rake of the very worst sort. He moves from woman to woman to woman without any care beyond the physical pleasure in the unions. He also drinks heavily. But Elizabeth is looking for her friend William - who she knows is still there underneath the debauched Lord Rivers. William finds himself drawn to Elizabeth in a way he has never been with any other woman in his life, but he is unsure if he can ever be what she needs him to be.
This was a fantastic story. In the end, I think I wanted more from William than I got. There is an HEA, but I wanted to see more of a genuine transformation... a change
in William beyond just loving the heroine. I really love reformed rake stories, even when the rake is as debauched and licentious as William is, but it needs to be written realistically. This one was... but only to a point.
One book I read that did this plot extremely well is Lucien's Fall. I kept drawing comparisons between these two books as I was reading Libertine's Kiss because the two heroes are so much alike - tortured, devlishly handsome, using women and drink to cover their inner pain. But in Lucien's Fall, the hero went through a more genuine reformation that was not solely due to the heroine's love, and which felt more believable.
Either way, Libertine's Kiss is a fantastic read, and I loved the characters, and the historical detail was fabulous.